Popular Culture, Mass Media, and American Values

JOUR 210 :: Spring 2015 :: CSU-Chico

Prof. Matthew Blake
898-3608 :: mdblake@csuchico.edu
THMA 339 :: M/T 10-12, Th 2-3

Announcement: Exam one is next week. Format is multiple choice, true/false and matching. Review sheet will be posted at right.

Jung and Freud

During the late 19th and early 20th century, these two psychiatrists attempted to accomplish the same goal as the IAT: elicit the subconcious perspective. Both were Swiss psychiatrists, founders of analytical psychology & many theories of the unconscious.

Both Freud and Jung studied the subconscious for clues about human behavior. Most often accessed through dream analysis, the subconscious reflects a psychological component as important as the conscious mind, they reckoned.

Jung idealized the spiritual as primary motivation in behavior and examined established and nascent religious forms as spiritual . Similar considerations lead to his influencing the formation of AA during the 1930s. Later, Jung introduced the concept of the collective unconscious.

The collective unconscious and archetypes help organize human thought and ideas, which are often present in cultural texts.

Archetypal figures

Jungian archetypes are "preconscious psychic dispositions that enable a (man) to react in a human manner."

Archetypal figures are present in different types of culture and methods of communication. In historical folk culture, archetypes are often mythical figures, transferred orally.

Myths & archetypes

Myths, for our purposes, are identical to folk tales. Present in the earliest human records, mythology existed previously in oral tradition. Some, like Eliade, belive that myths, like archetypes, are primordial and reveal absolute truth.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell outlined four functions that myths fulfill in society:

  1. Metaphysical: This function helps explain the mysteries of life and the universe. Similar to the spiritual component of the archetype. (This has been partly supplanted by scientific theory.)
  2. Cosmological: For pre-historical and pre-modern cultures, myths explained the seasons, life cycles and other phenomena, which, at that point, was inexplicable. (This has also been partly supplanted by scientific theory.)
  3. Sociological: To provide social order, mythology provided direction and morality. This function is common in media.
  4. Pedagogical: Stages of life and periods of transition are explained through mythology. This function is common in media.

These functions do not function in a vacuum. Characters are required to explain mysteries, provide order or instruct. It should be unsurprising that myths are archetypal forms are not mutually exclusive -- archetypal figures help propel Campbell's function of myth. Many mythical stories contain archetypal figures that are still accessible and relevant in popular culture, including:

Notably, these mythical figures emerged in literature during the development of print culture (1400-1600). Nevertheless, like all myths, these transcend a means of delivery -- these stories were present in ancient times and have evolved with modern online and popular culture.

The hero

The most common and well-known archetypal figure within folk cultures or myths is the hero.

It existed in classical Greece and Rome, survived throughout the Middle Ages when much existing Western literature was destroyed, and has been found to exist in the Far East, Africa, Native South and North American cultures. Many of these cultures had never been in contact, meaning they conceived of the hero figure independently.

This evidence further convinced scholars that certain archetypal figures are of a preconscious nature, rather than the result of conscious, cross-cultural communication.

Much like migration of cultural forms from folk to popular cultures, ancient heroes, such as Hercules (from Ancient Greece, son of Zeus, completed the 12 labors) continue to be reinvented in modernity. Some have attempted to diagram a process or cycle the hero endures.

Joseph Campbell's monomyth is one manifestation of the hero's journey that is clear in many films and stories. Campbell's monomyth structure has shaped scholarship concerning the Matrix, Batman and Indiana Jones films.

George Lucas was directly influenced by Campbell's stages in his creation of Star Wars and this is apparent in the hero of the first Star Wars films, Luke Skywalker, who follows much of the process outlined here:

Other stages are present in other films, such as films involving the superhero, a character that exaggerates common traits and processes that traditional heroes embody. These traits include the following:

Whether the character is the hero or superhero, the hero archetype has been present in many forms, across many cultures and era.

Foundational archetypes

In modern popular culture, archetypes are presented as standard characters, transferred through electronic media. In both folk and popular culture, archetypes help inform and organize human thought. As culture evolves, new archetypes are formed and sometimes articulated through mass media.

But Jung's foundational archetypes were timeless in their nature and were meant to provide basic structure to understand human experience. In the study of culture, character types are often assigned based upon Jung's foundational archetypes.

Other Jungian archetypes are more common in cultural forms, whether popular, folk or other representations:


Along with the hero, among the most commonly recurring archetype in folklore, myths and modern popular culture is the trickster, which Leland discusses in chapter 7 of our book.

As briefly discussed by Leland, in the Uncle Remus tales, Br'er Rabbit character embodies the trickster. The character being more physically slight but also more witty than Br'er Fox, outmanuevers the fox in the "Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby." Like other folk tales, this story was co-opted and made childish by Disney.

Scholars have concluded that the Br'er Rabbit represented African-American slaves' abilities to persevere during their enslavement.

The trickster is clever, mischievous and disrupts existing order. He is concerned first with his physical appetites, he is immature, and is often cynical and unfeeling.

Archetypal structures & Star Wars

Some archetypes provide character structures in modern popular culture. Consider this matrix outlining films using familiar archetypal structures. Because the archetypal figures are familiar, the story becomes more accessible.

These structures are common in science fiction films and fantasy sagas; consider, for example, the archetypes in the original Star Wars film saga.

Consider, for a moment, Joseph Campbell's examination of the first episode.

Some archetypal characters in Star Wars and other historical and cultural references relied on familiar icons in modern culture for understanding and representation. Like the familiar archetypes, these associations provide the audience familiarity. For example:

Archetypes & stereotypes

While archetypes represent an ideal form, stereotypes apply one possible character trait to an entire group. Although, stereotypes may originate with an archetype.

Since archetypes begin with a singular form, we might say Michael Jordan is the archetype of a great basketball player. This archetype assumes certain characteristics present among great basketball players.

Meanwhile, a stereotype is an overly generalized concept or assigning an archetypal characteristic to an entire class of individuals.

For example, one might examine a list of the all-time greatest basketball players and conclude that there are more African-Americans than whites in the NBA. This would be a correct assumption: During the last 15 years, about 75% of NBA and 60% of college players are black.

But, the stereotype error is the wider application of the trait or characteristic to an entire group or demographic, which is an erroneous generalization. This stereotype -- that all blacks are good basketball players -- erroneously indicates that because most professional & college basketball players are black, most or all black people are exceptional basketball players. Thus,

This process of thinking is used in popular culture to demonstrate a character's ignorance. For example, this is illustrated in The Office, when boss Michael Scott picks an African-American worker to play on his team based on simple stereotype that backfires when his stereotype is proven false. It is intended for humor by revealing Scott's ignorance.

In short, the characteristics of the archetypal great basketball player is applied to an entire group in a stereotyped understanding.

Modern archetypes

Contemporary archetypes are not restricted to the Jungian forms or an individual medium; with electronic communication comes new construction of archetypes. Like the Jungian archetypes, these more modern concepts help people organize thought and communicate more clearly. Cultural figures -- fictional and non-fictional alike -- fill archetypal forms. See Star Wars above; also, westerns, crime stories contain archetypes.

We collectively create archetypes to label concepts. Sometimes marketers exploit modern archetypes for purposes of association. For example:

Modern archetypes are framed by exposure to media icons. Without exposure to advertisements or applicable lifestyles, the above archetypes wouldn't register. Meanwhile, different archetypal figures can define the same basic archetype. Consider the gangster as a 20th century archetype as one who is ruthlessly immoral, greedy, violent, an outlaw.

Let's consider others in greater depth, such as the concept appears in modern film and music.

The slacker

The slacker archetype has been around since at least the 1600s, even if the concept went by another name. The characteristics remained stable, though. The slacker rejects responsibility, work, underachieves and feels no guilt for performing this way.

During World War One, "slacker" referred to one who wasn't contributing to the war effort and about the same time British colonial officers used the term to describe foreign workers in Central Asia.

But the archetypal origins of the slacker, at least within the U.S., is seen in the mid-1800s, when it was witnessed in literary form during the industrial revolution. Workers during the industrial revolution(s) were being alienated from their own production (Marx). The result was dissatisfaction with one's labor and rejection of industrious character.

This became a theme in literature of American Renaissance period (mid-1800s). For example:

By the late 1990s, a new era of technological development had begun -- the information age, which found its own class of alienated workers content to "slack" on the job. While also witnessed in literature, the dominant icons of the digital-age slacker is seen in American film and television.


The 1999 comedy Office Space chronicles the life of office workers and one archetypal slacker, Peter. Peter embodies the low-level employee within a corporate bureaucracy. It identifies many frustrations of modern life through the use of archetypes.

Peter becomes the slacker archetype following a hynotherapy session that results in a state of blissful, altered consciousness.

This awakening, similar to Jung's harmony of the conscious and subconscious minds, leaves Peter having a new perspective about work and life. Other films from the same era have similar themes, such as the the eponymous Slacker and Clerks.

The White Album

The archetype need not be an individual; can be a concept, like a (hair) band, a song or a musical production. The Beatles' White Album has been referred to as an archetypal album and other performers' career-defining albums have borrowed the concept.

"It's like their White Album," is the frequent refrain of the music critic. Meanwhile, artists ranging from Jay-Z (Black Album), Danger Mouse (Grey Album), and Metallica (Black Album) have referenced the White Album in their own productions.

What characteristics define the White Album archetype?

Consider the following examples, which demonstrate the diversity of styles, musical brillance at the height of The Beatles career:

Like other archetypal figures, the Beatles were influence. While they first borrowed much from American music, in turn they influenced countless American musicians, even within the folk community.

After revisiting Harry Smith, Folk America continues by explaining how they influenced those in Southern California following the British Invasion.

(Start at 32:30)

  • WEEK FIVE: FEB 16-20
  • In class: Exam 1
    Online: Lessig reaction
    Readings: Leland, ch. 3
  • WEEK NINE: MARCH 16-20
  • Spring break
  • In class: Hegemony
    Online: Review 3
    Readings: Leland, ch. 11, 12
  • In class: Exam 3
    Online: Complete earlier posts
    Readings: Leland, ch. 13
  • In class: Material review
    Online: Final review
  • Final exam: On Bb Learn

Matthew Blake, CSU-Chico Department of Journalism and Public Relations